This year marks the tenth time Top Chef judge Gail Simmons has flown to L.A. for the Emmys. The show has been nominated every single year for a decade, and it won the Emmy for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program in 2010. But Gail's annual trip to L.A. for the awards is still jammed full of surprises, and this year, Gail took on the added challenge of keeping a food diary for The Feast, detailing every single thing she ate and drank in L.A. all weekend long—no easy task!
"It's funny that I was doing a food diary in a place where everyone around me is mindful of what they're putting in their mouths," says Gail. "At the parties, I was having conversations with chefs, and everyone was saying 'if this party would’ve been in New York, we would’ve run out of food in 20 minutes." But Gail says that, despite the restraint displayed by so many diet-obsessed partygoers around her in L.A., "I still managed to eat a lot of fun stuff. And the good news is, no one was paying attention to me."
We doubt that, but we're glad Gail found the time and space to enjoy the weekend properly—which, in our book, means eating and drinking non-stop. Here, the enviable highs and hilarious lows (i.e. low-blood-sugar) moments of Gail's weekend.
In the morning, I dropped my daughter off at school and got on a plane, and forgot to eat anything before I left the house. I had a chia bar and a coffee at the airport. I got on the plane and I opted not to have the airplane meal. There was a salad with grilled vegetables that I ate and a bag of cashews and a club soda and a bag of popcorn, and a little cheese plate with some grapes.
I got to L.A. about 3 o’clock and went right to my hotel. The makeup artist came to the hotel to do my hair and makeup. Friday night is when all the parties are. Our friend Brandon Creed, my husband’s best friend who introduced us, was my date for the night. I hadn't eaten since I got off the plane, and we had time to catch up a bit before we went to the first party, the Variety Women in Film Pre-Emmys Celebration. So first went to a restaurant right across the street called Craig’s: It's a hilarious Hollywood scene, but the owner is a great guy. We stood at the bar and had Casa Amigos tequila with lime and went across the street to the party.
The Variety party was at a restaurant called Gracias Madre. The food was really good. I Had a margarita, a few veggie empanadas, and a roasted fig with some goat cheese on top, and a crispy tortilla with mushroom. The highlight of the party for me was stopping Regina King from American Crime to tell her how obsessed I was with her . Then she started pointing at me and going “I know you. I know you. I watch you late at night.”
Then we went to Entertainment Weekly's party; they throw a big one every year. The DJ was incredible. We ended up staying there really late. It became this awesome dance party. Everyone from Gaby Hoffman to the cast of New Girl was getting down on the dance floor. I didn’t eat there, but I had two glasses of Champagne. When we walked out around 12:30 at night, both Brandon and I realized we were starving. We walked down the street to this place called The Nice Guy. It's a dark, slamming bar and it was packed. We scooted into a booth and ordered the meatballs, chopped salad and Brussel sprouts. I had a glass of red wine. I just realized that means I’ve now had a tequila, a margarita, two glasses of Champagne and a glass of red wine. I needed to get home. I was telling Brandon a story and I spilled my red wine all over his shirt. He was a good sport because he’s a good friend. I was completely functional, but when I got home I realized wow, I drank a lot and had almost no food.
I slept in. It was rare to have a Saturday morning when my child wasn’t waking me up, my husband wasn't waking me up. I had the room to myself. I ordered breakfast in bed. I worked on my balcony. I ate poached eggs, avocado on whole wheat toast. I held back the bacon; that was my big sacrifice. And I had coffee.
About 1 o’clock I went up to the pool and hung out with my good friend Jamie who was staying at my hotel as well. She's the head talent booker for Jimmy Fallon. I had an Arnold Palmer, virgin, by the pool—just lemon and iced tea. Then Tom Colicchio came to join us, and he and his wife were having lunch at the roof restaurant at the hotel. So I went over there and had lunch with them about 3 o’clock, and my stylist joined us too. I had grilled harissa chicken and a big salad. Then I ran to get my hair done and my face organized. My husband arrived, and at 7pm we left for dinner. We met our friend Brandon again, and two of our good friends who live in L.A., at Sotto (pictured below), which is a really delicious Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills. We had a bunch of things, octopus, charred broccolini, grilled lettuces, a pizza Diavolina which had Calabrian chiles. We had a margarita pizza with burrata and arugula, and a roasted cauliflower appetizer. I had a glass of Prosecco. It was all really delicious. I wasn’t eating all of this myself, by the way. There were six of us.
Tom and his wife joined us again there, and we all walked over to Mr C’s, which is a hotel just a block away where Lorne Michaels' company Broadway Video throws a party every year. We got there really late, so the party was just winding down. There was a sushi bar and I had two pieces of tuna nigiri there. From then we went to a huge party that’s thrown every year, called The Evening Before party. It’s a big fundraiser in Century City. Every actor, producer, talent, everyone you’ve ever seen on television is at this party. Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal did the food. There were tables and tables of Italian food. I was stuffed because I’d just eaten dinner. I just had some Champagne and a chocolate chip cookie from a cookie station run by a 12-year-old kid named Mr. Cory (pictured with Gail, below).
He’d baked hundreds of chocolate chip cookies for the party. He's an incredible kid with an incredible story. He lives in New Jersey with his mom. He has so much charisma and style. Ellen DeGeneres found him and gave him money to start a business, and now he’s a little CEO.
Anyway, here’s this huge party and so much food and no one is really eating anything, because it's L.A. The chefs must have spent a week doing the food. But the party was really fun because that same DJ from the night before was DJing. I saved her card. She’s awesome. She’s a woman, DJ Michelle Pesce. I ended up hanging out at the end of the night with Padma and Aziz Ansari and his costar Alan Yang from Masters of None. We started a bit of a dance party. We all started dancing and people started coming out to the dance floor. Alan and Aziz are pretty good dancers.
We left probably around 12:30 and got home around 1.
Emmy Day. I woke up around 8:30 and went downstairs for breakfast. I had coffee and huevos rancheros.
The day starts early. It’s such a long day. You start getting ready at 11 o’clock in the morning, and everything takes forever. My hair and makeup artists came, and my stylist. In the middle of getting ready I greeted my friend Jamie, who came by and brought me a green juice. Then we got ready and left for the Emmys about 2 o’clock. When you pull up at the Emmys, you walk through Staples Center to the red carpet. They set up the hall in the convention center with snacks, and you can get your wardrobe snafus fixed. It takes an hour to get to the Emmys because of traffic and security. We pulled up at 3:30. You stop throughout the hallway to fix yourself and get organized. There was a candy table. I didn’t have time to pick up anything but my husband grabbed some gummy peach rings and handed me one. Everyone was running so late because of traffic. We did picture-taking but didn’t have much time. You usually spend so much time doing interviews. I met Tom and Richard Blais on the red carpet.
Then we went into the Emmys and the show began. The running joke among everyone at the Emmys is, you leave your room at 2pm and you don’t eat until 8:30, after the Emmys. It was a gift from heaven when Jimmy Kimmel announced his mom had made PB&Js, and the kids from Stranger Things started passing them out.
I had a whole lunch sitting on my lap. Half a PB&J sandwich, an apple, a juice box and a mint. I ate the PB&J sandwich, and my husband and I shared the juice box and the mint. We ate the apple later. Everyone in the audience was eating a bagged lunch.
My favorite moment was when the cast of Game of Thrones was sitting in front of us. I looked over one moment and saw the guy who plays the hound [Rory McCann, pictured below right], who is actually very handsome in person. He’s enormous, a massive human. He was sitting in his seat, sipping a juice box! An amazing Emmys moment. Everyone needed that juice box. Everyone.
After that was the Governors Ball, the most over-the-top insane bar mitzvah you’ve ever seen. The entire room at the convention hall is draped in crystals, enchanted forest scenes. Patina chef Joaquim Splichal does the food. It’s pretty extraordinary what they accomplish, serving dinner to thousands of people in an hour. The orchestration of that dinner service with drinks and desserts, it’s like an unbelievable feast. It would make one hell of a Top Chef elimination challenge.
I had rosé Champagne and a beet and goat cheese salad, half a filet mignon and some roasted carrots. Somehow the filet mignon is a perfect medium, it’s all sous vide. It’s not groundbreaking cuisine. But considering how many people they’re serving, all in black tie, it’s pretty amazing from a logistics standpoint. A full sit-down dinner, elaborate table service, centerpieces, the whole thing. But it happens really quickly and everyone wants to leave to go to the next party. We were out of there by like 9:30.
Then we went to the HBO party. They throw this huge party, a massive tented event at the Pacific Design Center. A huge, huge, party. I had a glass of Champagne and one little bite of a salmon tartare in a cucumber cup. We were there for about an hour, then we went to Jimmy Kimmel’s afterparty on a studio lot. I have to say, it was like the best afterparty.
Apparently Jimmy Kimmel is super into food, and he did something very different that I’ve never seen anyone at the Emmys do: In his travels around the world he found his favorite 8 or 10 chefs and had them come and cook for the party. It was like a night market. It was Jon and Vinny again. They did Cubano sandwiches, and the Franks [Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli] from Frankies in New York were there, and Chris Bianco (pictured above, right) from Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. He had a full pizza oven out there. Adam Perry Lang of Daisy Mae's BBQ is about to open a restaurant in L.A., and Jimmy wanted him to do BBQ, so Aaron Franklin from Franklin's BBQ in Austin sent him a smoker. Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, the chefs who were at Balthazar in New York, were there too. Chris Shepherd from Underbelly in Houston was making braised goat with Korean rice dumplings. It was awesome. I had two slices of pizza, one margarita and one caramelized onion with pistachios. I had a Cubano sandwich from Jon and Vinny. And the braised goat from Chris Shepherd. The BBQ was already finished by the time I got there.
We all spent the rest of the night hanging out there. I felt like I was with my people. Otherwise I feel like a fish out of water with all these actors and actresses in Hollywood; it’s not my usual world. This was a mix of the two. We were hanging out with the Game of Thrones people, and Aziz and Alan again, and Tom and Padma. So it ended up being a really fun night.
We got home at almost 2 in the morning and had to be up at 6am to catch the flight.
I was thinking about how so many shows have come and gone, but we’re still hanging out on the red carpet. The Sopranos is gone, Girls is ending...We feel very privileged that we’ve been nominated 10 years in a row. And that we won once!
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